When Carlos Alcaraz lifted the US Open trophy in New York and became the youngest world No. 1 in ATP history, the Spaniard said it was a dream come true.
Three months on, the 19-year-old feels like he is still dreaming, as he admits it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet.
“It sounds like a dream for me. Honestly, there are so many times I think about this year, about my position right now, and I still can’t believe it. I’m thinking, ‘Is this real? I’m No.1 in the world?’ I’m dreaming. It’s something I have to realize someday,” Alcaraz told Arab News in an interview ahead of his upcoming Mubadala World Tennis Championship debut.
One of the possible reasons Alcaraz still hasn’t fully comprehended his achievements is that he hasn’t even had time to celebrate. “I’m going to have a team dinner with everyone, it’s going to be the best moment of the year,” he said.
The tennis merry-go-round barely stops, spinning at an unforgiving speed, giving little chance for players to take a moment to appreciate their victories or grieve their losses.
The day after Alcaraz won a maiden Grand Slam crown in New York, he hopped onto a plane to Valencia to join his Spanish teammates at the Davis Cup. He then competed in Astana, Basel and Paris, before pulling out of his last two events of the season due to a muscle tear in his left abdomen.
He has “almost 100 percent” recovered from the injury and expects to be training “normally” within a week.
“I had so many tournaments and had no time to realize 100 percent the US Open. Of course it was a great feeling for me. All I can say is that nothing changed,” Alcaraz said when asked about what it felt like being a Grand Slam champion and the men’s top-ranked player at events after the US Open.
For him, the tour just kept on going and he just tried to keep up.
— Carlos Alcaraz (@carlosalcaraz) September 28, 2022
“Obviously yes, all the people want to beat the No. 1 in the world. I could feel that after the US Open everyone had a target on me and everyone wanted to face me on court. That’s what I have to be prepared for,” he added.
Alcaraz has a 6-4 win-loss record after the US Open, including a pair of defeats to Felix Auger-Aliassime, an opening round exit to David Goffin in Astana, and a retirement in the Paris Masters quarterfinals against eventual champion Holger Rune.
“After the US Open it was difficult to adapt to his new role on the tour for him,” explained Alcaraz’s coach, former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.
“I was talking to him about how he had to manage everything but I think he needed to feel and to live it, go to a tournament and feel that pressure of being No. 1, playing matches being No. 1. It’s not very easy at the beginning and at the age of 19, it’s something that is not super mature to control everything that happened to him right now.
“He’s in a moment where he needs to live it like this and to feel what he’s going through and adapting. He knows it’s going to be like this until at least the Australian Open, so he needs to try to be normal but at the same time it’s not. But he has to.”
— Carlos Alcaraz (@carlosalcaraz) November 11, 2022
Alcaraz says he is fully prepared to lose his No. 1 spot, given the fierce competition at the top and the pressure of defending five titles next year. But the Spanish teenager emphasizes he would do everything to “recover the number,” noting how the Grand Slams would once again be his main goal for 2023.
If Alcaraz is ever short on inspiration on how to navigate his first year as a world No. 1, he could perhaps look no further than the women’s tour, where Iga Swiatek has been thriving at the summit.
The 21-year-old Pole abruptly rose to the top of the rankings when Ashleigh Barty announced her surprise retirement from the sport in March.
Swiatek grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran with it, going on a 37-match winning streak across a five-month period before losing in the Wimbledon third round in July.
“I see her year has been incredible, she broke a record I think for the longest winning streak (this century). It’s amazing,” Alcaraz said of Swiatek.
“I wish to be like her, to not lose the No. 1. But I think it’s almost impossible. I’m going to lose it but the point is to recover it and stay there at No. 1 as much as I can.”
About the other night! pic.twitter.com/U560MfPFbu
— Carlos Alcaraz (@carlosalcaraz) November 18, 2022
One thing Alcaraz has in common with Swiatek is how much they believe in the importance of sports psychology in their profession.
Swiatek has a traveling sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, with her at the majority of her events and the work they do together has proven to be a real game-changer for her.
Alcaraz works with a psychologist named Isabel Balaguer and Ferrero says the team benefits greatly from her expertise and that “she is a big and important side of our work.”
“It’s been about two years he’s working with her. It’s not like every week but every time that he feels he needs to talk to her about something that maybe is not right or something that is giving him more troubles in a match, he talks to her and tries to fix it a little bit,” said Ferrero.
“I talk to her every week. She talks to me about how he’s doing, how he’s practicing and all the things we’ve been talking about that he went through after the US Open, we’re trying to handle all the package, so she’s working very well.”
Ferrero and Alcaraz have been working together since the end of 2018 and have formed a special bond. The former French Open champion sees Alcaraz as “another son” and feels they share the same values.
— Carlos Alcaraz (@carlosalcaraz) December 1, 2022
Alcaraz’s meteoric rise has come with an incredible degree of popularity, both inside Spain and across the globe. His infectious energy, exciting game style, and humility on and off the court has taken the tennis world by storm — and the raucous Arthur Ashe stadium crowd that roared through his US Open matches in the fall was testament to that.
“It’s very special for us, I’m very happy the way that people love him and I think it’s because of his strength on the court and his passion and his way to say ‘vamos,’ I think people feel this potential in him and this kind of passion,” explained Ferrero.
“I remember since the moment that I started working with him, we were traveling around the world when he was 16 or 17, even at that moment when he wasn’t that famous, he was very charismatic at the tournaments, all the people were going there to watch Carlos on the court. It doesn’t surprise me too much to see all the people loving him, he smiles, he’s very kind to everyone, he’s a nice guy.”
Ferrero credits Alcaraz’s family for the way his charge handles himself and for not putting pressure on him.
“Carlos is lucky about the family he has. His father … played tennis in Spain at a very high level, he was in the top 30, so he is able to understand how his son has to work with the coach,” stated Ferrero.
“I’m here at the academy, he let him grow up and not be involved absolutely in everything. I think his father has trusted me since the beginning and he lets me work in all areas very fluid. We have a very good relationship.”
The full 2022 #MWTC lineup
Abu Dhabi's favourite sporting event is back in December. See the best in the game take to the court only #InAbuDhabi.
— Mubadala World Tennis Championship (@MubadalaWTC) November 30, 2022
Ferrero will be heading to Abu Dhabi soon with Alcaraz, where the Spaniard will face Andrey Rublev or Frances Tiafoe in his opening match on Friday Dec. 17.
The tournament in Abu Dhabi will give them a chance to make use of the great practice facilities at Zayed Sports City, to hit with other top players at the event, and compete in a real match setting.
Ferrero knows 2023 would require a huge amount of work from Alcaraz to maintain his place among the game’s elite. “He has to work on everything. He’s 19, next year he turns 20, but at that age it’s impossible to be complete in all areas,” said the Valencia coach.
“So let’s say forehand he has to work on small details, backhand as well, of course he has to be more consistent on the serve, on the return I want him to be even more aggressive, on the net he needs to clean a little bit some of the mistakes he does. I prepared the end of the season very specifically to try to improve a lot of things.
“You cannot tell someone that just because he is No. 1 that he is very complete and he doesn’t need to work, it’s absolutely the opposite. He needs to keep working in all areas he needs to, and it’s what we’re going to do.”